Clarksville, Ark.-Going into his 25th year as head coach of the U of O women's basketball team, Jack Jones believes his team is primed and ready to make another run at the playoffs after narrowly being eliminated last season.
Jones inherits three returning starters, including two who were named all-conference a year ago. Guard Tiffany Villines, forward Jenna Corbell and post Mandi Carter (Clarksville) are the focus of this year’s squad and are expected to lead the Lady Eagles into the thick of the playoff race. The Lady Eagles were picked to finish second in the American Southwest Conference East Division preseason poll. "Our main strength this year is our returning experience," said Jones, whose squad finished 12-13 and third in the conference last season. "I expect Jenna, Mandi and Tiffany to have a major impact on the team and they will be the key to having a successful season. We have some other players who will need to step in and play big roles in order for us to compete for a playoff spot." Jones has been blessed with Corbell and Carter, a one two-punch he calls the best in the conference. Corbell was named to the All-ASC team and to the ASC All-East Division first team. Carter was named to the All-East Division second team. "I think they are the best forward-post combo in the conference," said Jones. "Teams can’t focus on just one of those players. I want to have a fast-pace game because those two are as athletic as any four and five position players in the league. But there will be times when we will need to have some set plays for Jenna and Mandi to take advantage of their talents." Corbell is a player Jones believes will have a major say in where the Lady Eagles finish this season. The veteran coach has had a long list of accomplished forwards that have earned All-America status and he believes Corbell is in the same mold. The 5-10 athletic senior from Ashdown nearly averaged a double-double last season (20.3 ppg/9.9 rpg) while setting a new school record after grabbing 25 rebounds against Hendrix College. Corbell ranked second in the league in scoring and rebounding. "She is the most complete player in the conference," said Jones of Corbell, who earned All-Region D3hoops.com honors last season. "She can score inside and out and can rebound and run the floor. I really see Jenna as an All-American candidate if she stays healthy and produces like she is capable of producing. She in the same category as my former All-American players. I think she can break some scoring records here, too. She has excellent court awareness and balance underneath the basket that allows her to score in an athletic way." Corbell teams with Carter, a 6-0 sophomore who averaged 13. 2 points per game and 8.8 rebounds per game. Despite the presence of Corbell and Carter on the inside, Jones wants his squad to play an up-tempo style behind a solid group of guards led by Villines. Villines, a 5-8 senior, ranked sixth in the conference in assists (4.1) while scoring 6.2 points per game. "I think we have some good, quick guards and with Jenna and Mandi’s speed, we will be able to run the floor and create some transition baskets," said Jones. "I want to press a little more this year because we have more depth at the guard position. We can afford to bring in some fresh players in at that position and I see us having a lot of opportunities to shoot the ball from the outside since teams will be doubling down on our inside players. Our guards will have to knock some three-point shots down." The Lady Eagles can prove early on where they stand in the conference when they face ASC powers Hardin-Simmons and McMurry in the second week of the season. "We have to start this race out of the block early," said Jones. "We have to gain some confidence early because we don’t have very many ball games before we begin conference play. These kids know what it takes to be a winner in this conference and we can’t take any body lightly. Every game in this league is tough and if you’re not ready, somebody will beat you. We are certainly grabbing the bull by the horns by playing nationally-ranked Hardin-Simmons in the second game of the season." The Lady Eagles open the season at home on November 24 against Central Baptist.